As marketers, we put blood, sweat, and tears into our campaigns. From strategy to design to promotion, tons of manpower goes into getting a campaign off the ground. After weeks of hard work the last thing that we want is a failure.

“Well [heavy sigh] that’s exactly what happened to us during a recent ebook campaign for a CPA firm. We’ve gone to the Shadowy Place, survived, and have come back with a story to tell so hopefully you can learn from our mistakes.”

Learning From Pitfalls

This campaign started off like any other, with a gathering of the minds. Our strategists met with subject matter experts from the client side to map out a marketing campaign that would run for the next 3-5 months. Our first objective was to select a topic. No matter how good or bad a concept was, we threw all of our ideas onto a dry erase board so we could build off of each other. Slowly a topic landscape started forming and we realized we would need a stellar idea to stand out from the noise.

Unlike some industries, the financial services vertical is overcrowded with content. There are tons of business accounting ebooks, blogs offering tax tips, and investment webinars. If we didn’t want our campaign to get lost in the crowd we’d have to drill down and get focused.

Lesson 1: Being Too Niche Can Hurt You

Every entry-level marketing book will tell you that if your market is oversaturated, targeting a sub group, or niche market, is the way to go. And that’s exactly what we did. We finally agreed upon employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) as our topic. At a quick glance, an ESOP allows a business owner to sell their company to employees allowing the owner to stay as involved or uninvolved as they choose post sale.

In hindsight, we went too niche. When it came time to promote the ebook it was close to impossible to target the proper demographic. Not only were we looking for Texas business owners ready to sell their business (which is already a small group) but we wanted owners who may have interest selling via an ESOP, which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Turns out, hunting down Texas business owners looking to sell their business is next to impossible to target via social media behavior or demographic targeting as they tend to keep this notion highly secretive throughout the entire process. Finding our market was like trying to target left handed underwater basket weavers with peg legs, it was tough.

Lesson 2: Consider the Research Phase Your Back Up

In most cases going niche is a great idea. However, before embarking on a super targeted approach, take topic research a few steps beyond what may normally check the boxes. Since our initial strategy session involved the client stakeholders, we took their expertise on the subject matter as definitive and ran with the ESOP topic after confirming there was indeed search volume (intent) and an opportunity to stand out amongst the competition (nobody else had a thorough guide on this subject). What we missed in our stakeholder meeting and market research is what seems obvious now: targeting those interested in this topic is no easy feat.

Consider the research phase your guess and check step. Here are a few key areas to check out:

Existing customers

Hop on a call with a few existing customers that you’re doing business with related to your topic. In our case, we should have spoken with some of our client’s customers who have gone through an ESOP setup. What sources did they reference during their research phase? What content was available to help them make a decision? Was there anything missing that your content piece can answer?


Are your competitors talking about this topic or related topics via their blog, social media, and advanced content pieces? Finding the answer to this question will help you to determine if the topic is over saturated or if there’s a spot you can fill. If competitors have touched the topic before examine how in-depth they went and if there’s something important they missed. If not, is there a reason why the subject isn’t being talked about? In our case, we took the lack of conversation on the topic as an opportunity. But it may be that the competitors have already realized the difficulty in targeting this niche audience.

Forums and Online Groups

Look beyond your current network and do some social media stalking. Are there people in your community actively talking about your topic? Are there groups dedicated to just your topic? This will help you to decide if targeting your demographic will be a challenge or not.

Lesson 3: Even Great Content May Not Be Enough

The phrase, “build it and they will come” isn’t always true. Niche topic aside, we created killer content. As a consumer, our biggest pet peeve are ebooks filled with fluff that were used as bait to get our contact information. So as a marketing agency, we only produce content that will actually help the audience. Our ebook was educational, offered practical strategies that could be immediately implemented, and presented a slew of supplemental information.

The content was solid but getting it in front of a crowd that would find it useful was a challenge. Over an eight-week span, we changed our targeting efforts no less than four times. I am not talking about small pivots; our promotion was totally overhauled again and again, yet we couldn’t find any takers. We shared previews of the ebook before download hoping that would do the trick. We even led our promotional efforts with helpful infographics and case studies but still nothing. Moral of the story, even great content won’t save a campaign.

The Takeaway

What I love about marketing is there isn’t a direct path for success. What works for one campaign won’t work for another. A copy and paste formula does not exist. With every campaign, we are tasked to create a new and even more creative strategy than the last.

However, eventually, we will all be on the failing side of a campaign. The most important lesson we learned during our campaign failure was the importance of how an audience could be reached. One method that could still potentially turn this campaign around is if the client were willing to do a “carpet bomb and retarget” ad strategy.

This means casting a very wide net to nearly all business owners in Texas, putting a high quality content piece in front of them more generalized around preparing to sell their business. Then, use the audience that engages as a separate retargeting group to narrow down the focus to those who may be interested in selling via an ESOP. Because of the very wide net on the initial audience now, the ad budget gets significantly higher and can be a blocker to the campaign continuation.

Don’t be afraid to admit you’re struggling because you just may uncover something that will make your next campaign a success.